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  • Experts Say These 11 Phrases Can Stop Tantrums (Fingers Crossed!)

    These strategies can help stop you from yelling and calm your child when he's having a tantrum.
    by Kitty Elicay .
Experts Say These 11 Phrases Can Stop Tantrums (Fingers Crossed!)
PHOTO BY iStock
  • There is no such thing as a perfect parent — or child. Though we try our best to raise disciplined and kind children, using all the positive parenting techniques we’ve learned in books and on the web, tantrums will still inevitably happen. That’s because it’s perfectly normal for a child to have tantrums and meltdowns — it’s part of a child’s development.

    “Young kids — namely those between the ages of 1 and 4 — haven’t developed good coping skills yet. They tend to just lose it instead,” Ray Levy, a clinical psychologist and author of Try and Make Me! Simple Strategies That Turn Off the Tantrums and Create Cooperation, told Parents.

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    You can try and anticipate the onset of a meltdown. “If a child is tired, stressed, or hungry, this raises the possibility of having a tantrum,” explains Dr. Rhea Lopa-Ramos, a child psychologist from St. Luke’s Medical Center Quezon City. But at the end of the day, all you can do is take charge of the situation if and when it happens.

    There are various strategies you can try so your child will learn to control his emotions, but it’s best to start with a calm exchange. (Yelling doesn't solve why he's having a meltdown in the first place.) Here are 11 phrases that you can try that might help stop the tantrum in its tracks:

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    1. “Tell me how you’re feeling right now.”

    “Children need to learn that we all have a range of feelings,” says Stephanie Samar, PsyD, a clinical psychologist from the Child Mind Institute. It includes negative emotions like sadness, frustration, and anger.

    By saying the phrase above, you are teaching your kids to label his emotions and to express themselves with words instead of physically lashing out or having random outbursts. If your child exclaims, “I’m mad!” that’s already a step in the right direction of managing his strong feelings.

    2. “No, you can’t do that.”

    Using a straightforward phrase like this can help manage his expectations right away. Answers like ‘maybe’ or ‘I’ll think about it,’ will only get his hopes up and possibly lead to a bigger meltdown later on.

    Remember to stand your ground when handling your child’s misbehavior. “It’s important for your toddler’s sense of security that she sees you making the decisions and sticking to them,” said BabyCentre. “While your toddler has a will of her own, things will get quickly out of hand if she’s allowed to exert it too much.”

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    3. “I know you’re feeling (insert emotion), and that’s okay.”

    Acknowledging your child’s feelings is one way to calm him down. “This sends the message that you understand and accept his feelings, which will help him move on from them,” says Janet Lansbury, a parenting advisor and bestselling author.

    4. “Can I give you a hug?”

    A hug can be a loving tactic to disarm — you are comforting your child and diffusing a tense situation at the same time. “When offering a hug or verbal reassurance to calm your child, you are not automatically reinforcing their behavior. You are actually helping them calm down so that they can hear you better,” said Dr. Azine Graff, a clinical psychologist who specializes in parenting and anxiety, to Motherly.

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    5. "What's this?"

    Kids have a short attention span, so take advantage by showing or giving him something more interesting while he’s in the middle of a tantrum. Hand him his favorite snack, bring out his favorite toy or propose a game to play. Make sure to look and sound excited, so he’ll be too distracted to remember that he was doing before. This is also a great strategy to stop tantrums before it happens.

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    6. "Let's go outside."

    Sometimes the tantrums get so big that the child can no longer gain control of themselves. When this happens, especially in a public place, it’s time to remove them from the situation.

    “If your child starts melting down over a toy or candy bar he wants, pick him up and take him either to a different area of the store or outside until he calms down,” said Levy. Changing the venue is another form of distraction that can quickly change your child’s behavior.

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    7. “Is this a big problem, a medium problem, or a small problem?

    This question, which we wrote about in a previous article, shows that you are interested in what’s bothering your child. Although it’s meant for preschoolers, toddlers can benefit from it as well.

    “The psychologist explained to me that we need to make children feel respected in the sense of acknowledging what they are feeling,” said mom Fabiana Santos. She learned the phrase from psychologist Sally Neuberger and shared her experience on Aleteia.

    Small problems require a quick and simple solution. Medium and big problems need more time and effort to solve, and you will need to talk and listen to your child so you can eventually help her find a solution to her worries.  

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    8. “I know you really want it but…”

    If your child is having a meltdown over something that he wants badly, it might help to explain to your child why he cannot have it. “But don’t feel like you have to convince your child that you are right. You are, after all, the parent,” said psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., to Psychology Today.

    But be clear and brief to ensure that there is no confusion or mixed messages. Also, your toddler might still not have the attention span to listen to a string of sentences.

    9. “Are you hungry? (Or sleepy? Or tired?)”

    Most tantrums happen because a child is simply “hangry” (hungry and angry). That and exhaustion are the two biggest tantrum triggers, according to Levy. So make sure that you always have snacks on hand, and let your kids rest every now and then.

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    10. “I love you, but I’m not giving in.”

    Your ears are already hurting from your child’s screams so it can be tempting to buy him what he wants just to end the tantrum. But your kid needs clear, firm limits to manage his behavior, which you show by not giving in.

    “Tantrums become a problem when parents give in to the child too soon or too often, teaching the child that a tantrum is an effective way to get what they want,” said Diane Ryals, a family life educator at the University of Illinois Extension, to SheKnows.

    11. Silence

    If the above phrases still don’t work, then it’s time to accept that sometimes, you should just let tantrums happen. “Difficult feelings are tunnels and we are trains traveling through them. We have to move all the way through the darkness to get to the calm, peaceful light at the end of the tunnel,” shared blogger and mom Katie McLaughlin.

    No matter what phrase you use, your kids need to know that you will always be there for them no matter what. So, remember to balance being firm and standing your ground with love, empathy, and affection. Good luck!

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